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East Lake prepares for international competition
High school team is gearing up for a Steampunk themed battle of the bots.
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Photo by KATHRYN WILLIAMS
Students from the Marketing and Community Outreach team work on essays for the competition. There are some members of 79 Krunch that will never touch a robot, but are still integral to the teams overall success.
EAST LAKE – The East Lake High School robotics team is headed to the FIRST robotics competitions in March, but the preparation for the events began in late January.

Team 79 Krunch is developing a robot to compete in the 2017 FIRST competition, “Steamworks” and the students have about six-weeks to build their robots, which will be required to perform complicated tasks in the time allotted.

For about 26 hours a week, on top of other activities and school work, students put their hands and minds to work in the engineering lab to prepare for the competition.

The East Lake students are inviting the public to follow their progress, as they work to engineer a successful, champion-contending robot.

What is FIRST?

FIRST – For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology – was founded in 1989 by inventor, entrepreneur and science advocate, Dean Kamen. The not-for-profit organization aims to create programs that motivate students to pursue education in science and technology. Students from kindergarten through high school have an opportunity to participate in FIRST events and programs to inspire innovation, communication skill, leadership and life skills.

FIRST has four competitions: Lego League Jr., Lego Lego, Tech Challenge and the Robotics Competition. This year, the Robotics Competition theme is Steamworks, a steampunk inspired idea.

Steampunk is a science fiction or design concept that combines anachronisms, the machine age, and a historical setting that is usually Victorian. For the competition, the two steampunk motif’s that will take precedent are the love of steam-powered machinery and gears.

“They have a broadcast every year,” said Vice President of Marketing and Community Outreach, Allie Ghisson, a junior at East Lake High School. She added 6 to 7 thousand teams watch it. Later, a manual is released to the students. Both the manual and the broadcast inform the students of the task at hand, and what robots they will need to build.

In six weeks, with limited resources and funds from sponsored or fundraisers, students are required to built robots to play what FIRST calls a field game against students like themselves.

This year, students will be required to power up their own airships in this competition.

Each team will be tasked with delivering gears to “human players,” and shooting what looks like whiffle balls representing “fuel” into goals representing “steam tanks.” Everything has a point value. For instance, students receive bonuses for the number of airship routers they power up with their gears, and fuels shot into the 8-foot goal yield more points than the goal lower to the ground.

There is an additional opportunity for extra points for the students if the robot is able to scale a rope and the rope holds up the 120-pound robot until the end of the competition.

Team 79 Krunch will participate in three FIRST competition dates: the South Florida Regional March 1 to 4, the Orlando Regional March 9 to 11 and the Rocket City, Alabama Regional March 22 to 25.

Throughout the building season, students participate in training sessions and tryouts as drivers control the robots for the competition to learn how to deal with situations, fast adjustments and control.

One of the senior drivers on 79 Krunch is Julia Lockheed, a senior who has been driving for the past three years. She started off on the mechanical team, but later found her gift for driving the robots.

“At the beginning of the year [team mentor] Gary will say driving practice is open to everyone,” Lockheed said.

Typically, three people are chosen for the drive team: a gunner or manipulator, a backup and the main driver. However because of the parameters of this years FIRST competition, Lockheed said they have a fourth member of the drive team, the “human player” who is in the airship at the center of the competition.

Lockheed, who will be attending Embry-Riddle to study Aeronautical Engineering, said that students learn quite a bit from being part of the team.

“IT teaches you a lot about teamwork and working together on a large project,” Lockheed said.

In addition to the drivers, as Lockheed said, it takes quite a few people to put together a competition ready team.

Meet the team

The oldest high school robotic team in the Tampa Bay area is Team 79 Krunch at East Lake, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year at the FIRST competition.

The team was founded in 1998 by East Lake High School teachers Kathryn Phebus and Joyce Svabek, and was later continued under Coach Paul Wahnish, founder of the Academy of Engineering at both East Lake High and Middle School.

East Lake High School is home to the Academy of Engineering, a program that accepts students through an application process. While in the program, students learn about different forms of engineering, computer-integrated manufacturing, digital manufacturing, civil architecture and engineering design.

However, students from all four high school grades are invited to join the robotics team, even if they are not part of the engineering program, a fact personified by the team’s coach.

“I teach intensive reading,” said Coach Taycora Canfield.

Canfield was asked to chaperone one of the competition trips for the team, prior to becoming the coach. Watching the kids participate, she said it was more engaging than a sporting event. A STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – advocate, Canfield quickly became enamored with the robotics competition and program.

In 2015 she took over as the leader of the program.

“It’s a sport for the mind,” Canfield said. “It leaves every student feeling empowered.”

It also teaches the students valuable real-world experience, 79 Krunch President, East Lake Senior William Allen would add.

When Allen was younger, he was a demonstrator of an older Krunch robot at the local library. It was then he knew he would join the robotics team. He followed his initial interest to East Lake High School and joined the team as a freshman.

“For one, it keeps a lot of them out of trouble,” Allen said. “It’s also a practical learning experience.”

Allen, on top of his schoolwork and the team works a part-time job, and said he’s seen how working on the team will help students in the post-formal-education world.

“A lot of the things I’ve learned having a job are a parallel to this,” Allen said. “Now that I’m president, I’ve learned to manage a large group.”

Graduating this year, Allen is going to the University of Central Florida, but will not be pursing engineering. Instead, he will study graphic design and computer science.

In fact, not everything in the Team 79 Krunch work lab is about engineering.

“You could say I’m the manager of a business,” Allen said.

There are the expected mechanical, electrical and software sub-teams, but there are also the awards, spirit, scouting and driving teams. Additionally, there is a human player, safety captain and team officers including the Vice President of Treasury, Vice President of Marketing and Community Outreach, Secretary and Historian. There is a whole team geared toward communications, others do graphic design, create business plans and annual report boots, and create flyers.

Team 79 Krunch is truly run like a business.

Students also participate in volunteer work. Among other charitable works, the students collected 1 million pounds of waste in a collection this past year.

Ghisson, Alex Nakamura, Adam Sellers and Henry Sloan are part of the communications team.

“It is a big responsibility,” said Sloan, a senior. “They’re also top of their class.”

Working in such a tight-knit team, students say they not only learn a lot, but they build a network of students and friends. To build and maintain team moral, they participate in socials ranging from bowling to team dinners. 79 Krunch team Secretary Nakamura said some of the students have even found themselves playing video games together outside of the team.

“It’s a great experience to get into if they want something outside of the classroom,” said Adam Sellers.

Students will host an open house on Feb. 20, at 7 p.m., in the East Lake High School gym to unveil the robot to the public before the competition.

For more information on the robotics team, visit teamk­runch­.com.

East Lake High School is located at 1300 Silver Eagle Drive, Tarpon Springs.
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